I recently was lucky enough to go inter-railing around Europe with some of my absolute favourite people in the world. I was away from almost three weeks and in this time I was luck enough that nothing went drastically wrong, so here are my top 10 tips for a successful and stress-free inter-railing trip. Before the points, please let me point out that these tips are from my own experience and completely relate to this experience.
1. Plan before you go.
This by no means refers to planning a day-in, day-out. But it does mean book your hostels. It is a well known fact, that traditionally you would just tern up in a random country, find a hostel or hotel you fancy and ask if there is a room. Yes, this does work sometimes, but it can also be so stressful. I found that having all the hostels planned out and booked in advanced meant that I wasn’t stressed one bit and it was so easy.
Planning also refers to train tickets, if that how your getting around, and reservations. Most trains have reservations as compulsory, so its definitely worth checking. Also things like currency is worth checking out. If you’re in Europe, most places use the Euro, but not everywhere does. Being organised doesn’t sound that exciting, but it honestly saves you and makes inter-railing a lot easier.
2. Pack lightly and correctly.
I honestly can’t explain how important this is. I made a real point of under packing, and I’m so glad I did. My bag was a 70l and it comfortably carried about 14kg, which for me was a little heavy. I packed enough clothes for my entire trip, so that I didn’t have to do any washing – I only had to hand wash some socks in the end. When packing, you should put out what you think you’ll need. Lay everything out on the bed so that you can see everything, then put half of it back in your draws. You don’t need 4 pairs of jeans and 4 pairs of shorts, because I guarantee you would probably just wear the same 2 pairs of jeans or shorts for the entire trip. The lighter you pack, the more you’ll enjoy the trip and the easier it will be.
As for bags and actually packing it, I would highly suggest a backpack for moving around a lot. Packing it was something I didn’t figure out until I literally went home and, gods, it made such a huge difference. You want the bulk weight of the pack in the middle towards your back and the medium weight of your things at the top, with the light things at the bottom. This way you bag will be so much more cmanagable for lugging around wherever you go.
3. Take your student card.
This is so important if you are going inter-railing, around Europe especially. Everywhere, particularly France and Paris, has student discount. If you have a student card, not an NUS, a student ID card, take it with you. It can save you so much money in the long run, as the majority of sights, museums and parks will offer a student ticket. We used ours everywhere from museums in Berlin, to the Eiffel Tower in Paris (major discount by the way) and even for Disneyland!
4. Take mini travel guides.
Another thing to pack, or at least look at, are mini travel guides. I specify mini purely out of convenience. They’re much lighter than the full sized ones and usually come with a removable map, which is super handy. Travel guides are great, my personal favourites are the LonelyPlanet guides, and they give you so much information from cheap places to find food to last minute places to stay – as well as the obvious places to go. I would highly recommend taking the mini LonelyPlanet guides or at least downloading the app, which is 100% free and allows you to download the maps for anywhere – we literally survived on this app for the inter-railing trip.
5. Take spare locks!
I can’t stress enough how badly you need padlocks, and not the cheap ones either! I took 2 padlocks on my trip and one way or another they both broke on my bag and I spent hours breaking them open – one on the very first day too! But you definitely need these. If your staying in hostels, you will probably be allocated a storage box that can be locked, but they won’t provide you with the lock. If your sharing a dorm with others, you need one at least!
6. Wear comfortable shoes
When Inter-railing or backpacking, no matter where you go, your going to need comfortable waling shoes. You will be walking, and I mean walking, an awful lot – you will be walking everywhere and trust me the first few days will be hell for your feet and legs. But if you have a pair of comfortable walking trainers, it will make it so much more manage able. And by the 4th or 5th day, you will feel great. In my trip, I was away for 18 days and we walked a total of 169 miles. When I got back, i felt absolutely amazing, so much fitter and healthier.
7. Walk. Just walk.
This tip kind of goes with the last one, but honestly you should just walk. If you take taxis or trains or even trams everywhere, you won’t end up seeing everything or getting lost down those roads or canals far away from the tourist traps. Walking will be tiring but it will drop you into the middle of those little places you would have never thought of. Thats how you find the best, cheapest local eateries or the cute little shops that sell nothing need but everything you want. Go off the beat track. I promise by doing so you’ll find the hidden gems that you would never have found if you had gotten that Taxi.
8. Eat the food.
Way too many people go on holiday and will only eat ‘normal’ home food, particularly the Brits (Yes I’m blaming us, but its true). But honestly one of my absolute favourite things about traveling to new places is the food! You get to try so many new flavours that you would never have even though of before. So this tip is all about experiencing the places you go to. Look up what the traditional food is there and try it! I went to Budapest, Hungary this year with some university friends who had never tried Hungarian food and I completely converted them to Paprikash!
9. At least try to speak the language.
I know its hard to learn a new language and that not what Im asking you to do. Im not even asking you to learn anything complex, but to make an effort with your ‘please’ and ‘thank you’s’ really goes a long way. In Milan, my friends and I ended up in this really cute Italian street food place for the locals and the lady who owned the place didn’t speak a word of English. Luckily one of the customers did and she attempted to teach us all some Italian so we could order what we wanted- and we were terrible, but we made an effort. At the end, the lady who owned the shop came over with crepes for us all for free to say thank you for trying! So really it makes a difference to try.
10. Take lots of pictures.
And last but, certainly not least take photos and memories. This will be a trip you remember for the rest of your life, and will probably bore you kids with 25 years from now! I know my dad does this. Getting those photos, even those ones where you look awful and your hairs sticking up or you chin looks fun – because i guarantee it, those will be your favourites later one. Those will be the ones that remind you of the amazing fun you had with your friends or the people you met.
So those are 10 inter-railing or backpacking tips for you, all of which I learnt will on my trip this summer. I really hope that everyone gets the opportunity to do this at least once in their lives, it is so worth it. Do you have any traveling tips or travel plans coming up soon? Let us know in the comments below.